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Chris Pierson

Chosen of the Gods

Prologue

Eleventhmonth, 922 IA

The Lordcity of Istar was the center of the world around which A all else revolved. Capital of an empire vaster than any other Krynn had ever known, it sat upon the shores of the sapphire lake that shared its name, its high, white walls encircling it like a mother’s arms. Half a million souls-more than mighty Palanthas and Tarsis to the west combined-dwelt within that embrace. It outmatched other cities not only in size, however, but also with splendor. There was a legend that the great statues that stood atop its gilded gates had wept at the city’s beauty when they were first raised, though they were crafted of solid marble.

Everywhere one looked in the Lordcity, there were wonders to behold. Vast manors and churches lined its wide, tree-lined streets, roofed with domes of gold and alabaster, and smaller buildings gleamed in the light of sun and moons alike. Broad plazas held gardens where a thousand different colors of flowers bloomed, and fountains sent water spraying high into the air, to glitter like diamonds as it plunged back to earth. Silken sails filled its harbors, overlooked by the God’s Eyes, twin towers where beacons of polished silver blazed day and night. Idols of the gods of light stood watch from the city’s heights, more than ten men tall, hewn of lapis and serpentine, sard and chalcedony. Its marketplace bustled with noise and laughter and a riot of trade riches: spices and satin, wine and pearls, brightly hued songbirds and the skulls of long-dead dragons.

Even in such a marvelous city, some wonders stood out. In the western quarter was the School of the Games, a vast arena draped in banners of silk, where gladiators had once fought and died and mummers now played out tales of wars long won, kingdoms long since conquered. In the north stood the Keep of the Kingfisher, a huge, strong-walled fortress that served as headquarters for the Solamnic Knights within the empire. To the east, high above the domes and treetops, surrounded by an enchanted grove of olive trees, rose the crimson-turreted Tower of High Sorcery, where the wizards dwelt.

All of these, however, were nothing beside the Great Temple. Sitting in the Lordcity’s midst, the marble- paved streets radiating out from it like a wheel’s spokes-or a spider’s web, some said-the Temple was the most resplendent edifice ever built. Those travelers lucky enough to have seen the halls of the elven kings spoke of them as mere shadows of the Temple’s glory. A wide plaza, the Barigon, surrounded it, large enough that nearly every soul in the Lordcity could stand within it and look upon its graceful, buttressed walls and seven golden spires that reached up like fingers clutching at the heavens. Within, amid lush gardens and pools filled with jewel-hued fish, stood more than a dozen buildings, each more glorious than the last. Among them were the entrance hall, itself larger than most cities’ cathedrals, and the towering, silver-roofed cloisters where the clergy resided. The imperial manse, where the Kingpriest dwelt, surpassed even these, and at the eye of the Temple was the true heart of the city, the center of the world. There, grandest of all, was the basilica, a vast dome of frosted crystal that shone with its own holy light, like a star plucked from the heavens and set upon the earth.

This night First Son Kurnos glowered at the basilica from the steps of his cloister. A stocky, powerfully built man with thinning red hair and a bushy beard frosted with silver, he was the head of the Revered Sons of Paladine, the most powerful of all the world’s orders, and adviser to the Kingpriest himself. He was also shivering with cold. The sky was dark, and though a month still remained until autumn’s end, snow danced in the air above the Temple. It dusted the paths of crushed crystal that wound through the church’s grounds and lit on the moonstone monuments of the Garden of Martyrs, which bore the names of those who had died serving the church. It was a rare thing- the Lordcity’s winters were known for rain, not snow-and another time, Kurnos might have found it beautiful. Now, however, his thoughts were elsewhere.

“Quickly, boy,” he growled, cuffing the ear of the acolyte who stood beside him. “I haven’t got till sunrise.”

The younger priest, clad in a gray habit that seemed all the plainer beside Kurnos’s embroidered white robes, hurried past, down to the garden path. The same lad had woken Kurnos half an hour ago and given him the missive. It had come in a tube of platinum, inlaid with amethysts: a single sheet of vellum, scented with rosewater. Its seal was azure wax, bearing the triangle-and-falcon signet of the Kingpriest. It bore only Kurnos’s name and three words in blue ink, written in the church tongue: Tarn fas ilaneis.

Thou art summoned.

Kurnos felt uneasy. He had been First Son for five years and a lesser member of the imperial court for another ten before that. In that time, he had received numerous imperial summonses-but never in the middle of the night. Never, not even once, written in the Kingpriest’s own hand.

Before him, the acolyte raised his hands to the cloud-heavy sky. He began to speak softly. “Cie nicas supam torco,” he murmured, “Palado, mas doboram burtud.”

Though I walk through night’s heart, Paladine, be thou my light.

As he finished the orison, a soft glow, as of silver moonlight, rose around him. The First Son felt a twinge of jealousy. The boy’s powers were minor but more than most priests could wield-Kurnos among them. In ancient times, when evil was rampant in the world, the clergy’s holy might had been vast. In Holy Istar, however, centuries of holy war had left the forces of darkness weak and scattered, and the power to work miracles had dwindled along with the need for them. The god, the church’s doctrine taught, was sparing with his gifts.

“The way is ready, Aulforo,” murmured the acolyte.

Kurnos nodded, stepping out into the magical moonlight. “Go,” he said, waving the boy away.

The acolyte retreated into the cloister as he set forth across the garden, past the graven monuments. The moonlight followed him over ornamental bridges and up marble steps, past almond and lemon trees, where nightingales sang. He turned aside from the basilica, making instead for the imperial manse. A pair of Solamnic Knights stood guard outside, clad in polished, antique armor; they dipped their halberds as he approached and stepped aside without a word.

The manse’s doors were huge, made of beaten platinum. They swung open silently as he approached and stepped through into the vestibule. The entry hall, like everything in the King-priest’s private residence, was richly appointed, with the finest furnishings from the empire’s many provinces: mahogany panels from the jungles of Falthana on the walls; gold-threaded arrases from sun-drenched Gather; carpets woven by the desert-dwelling folk of Dravinaar. Columns, crowned with rose-petal capitals, ran down its length, and in its midst stood seven onyx pedestals, bearing alabaster statues of the gods of light.

Paladine, the supreme god of Good, loomed above the others, a long-bearded warrior in armor shaped like dragon-scales. Kurnos genuflected to the idol, kissing the platinum medallion that hung at his throat then pressing it to the god’s glistening feet.

A door opened as he knelt there, and an old, bald cleric in a white cassock emerged. Kurnos recognized the man: Brother Purvis, the Kingpriest’s chamberlain. His eyes were bleary as he bowed to the First Son.

“Your Grace,” he said. “You are expected.”

Kurnos rose without reply and handed the old man his fur-lined cloak. Together they walked down a broad, marble hall and up a stairway to a door of polished silver. It opened at Purvis’s touch, and the chamberlain stepped aside to reveal a well-appointed waiting room.

“Revered Son,” said a gentle voice.

Loralon, Emissary for the elves of Silvanesti, rose from a cushioned seat on the room’s far side. As he did, he signed the sacred triangle-one palm atop the other, thumbs extended to a point beneath-that was the holy sign of Kurnos’s order. It was a courtesy, for the Silvanesti took the pine tree, not the triangle, as their gesture of blessing. Kurnos nodded in reply, stepping forward as Purvis shut the door behind him.

The elf gestured toward another chair, and Kurnos sat, regarding him carefully. Loralon was as always: calm, reserved, eyes sparkling in the glow of the lamps that lit the room. He was old, even for his long-lived people, having seen more than five hundred years. Though his face remained unlined by age, his hair had turned silver, and a snowy beard-rare among the elves, found only among the most ancient-trailed down his chest He was clad in full

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